OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is withdrawing federal funding to three Planned Parenthood clinics in Tulsa that for 18 years has allowed them to provide food and nutritional counseling to low-income mothers — a decision that mirrors efforts in other conservative states to defund the group and one its director described Thursday as a "short-sighted political maneuver."
The State Department of Health notified Planned Parenthood of the Heartland CEO Jill June in a letter last week that it would be terminating its contracts with the Tulsa facilities at the end of December. The contracts are federally funded through the Women, Infants and Children program. This year, the Planned Parenthood clinics received $454,000, combined.
The Tulsa World first reported on the plan to terminate the agency's contract on Thursday.
The head of the health department's WIC Services division said the decision was based in part on the uncertainty of future federal funds and that Planned Parenthood's cost per participant exceeded those of other Tulsa-area clinics.
"There were performance factors included in this decision," said Terry Bryce, the chief of the health department's WIC Services division.
Oklahoma is among the most conservative states, with Republicans currently in control of both legislative chambers and every statewide elected office. But Bryce denied there was any political motive behind the move, which he described as a "business decision."
"The decision was a collective decision within the agency based on the agency's need, the contractor's performance and funding availability."
June questioned whether a business decision was in the best interest of the women and children who receive services at the Tulsa clinics.
"I thought the program was about the needs of women and children," she said. "We're going to stand and fight to continue providing these services."
The closure affects Planned Parenthood facilities in west Tulsa, midtown and Broken Arrow that average about 3,000 client visits per month, nearly 18 percent of all client visits in Tulsa County, according to health department data.
"It's hard enough right now for young mothers and children to deal with economic hardships," June said. "To have this kind of heartless disruption of services for reasons that don't add up — I do fear that this is politically motivated. Women should not be the target of political gamesmanship."
Bryce said there are no plans to close any of the other 14 clinics in Tulsa County that provide WIC services, and that the remaining clinics will be adequate to accommodate the additional clients.
"We have existing WIC clinics in close proximity to all three of these locations," Bryce said.
Planned Parenthood is a major provider of abortion and contraception nationwide, but June said none of the facilities in Tulsa offer abortion services. The nonprofit agency has been at the middle of a hot-button national debate over abortion and contraceptives, and has come under fire in a number of conservative states that have sought to eliminate its funding.
Indiana passed the first law meant to deny Planned Parenthood federal funding for general health services, The GOP-controlled Legislature in Texas passed a law last year that sought to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and health services to poor women as part of the Texas Women's Health Program.
"They (Planned Parenthood) are absolutely under attack, and the reason for it, to the extent there is a reason at all, is this supposed connection to abortion services, but it's just not true," said Julie Rikelman, the litigation director at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. "They're trying to make it seem like it's about abortion, but it's not. It's 100 percent anti-woman, and it's terrible policy."
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy
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